Many people are reluctant to take psychiatric medications, or to have their child placed on them. In many cases, I believe their reluctance is justified. While there are instances in which medication is life-changing, even lifesaving, there are others in which they can be avoided.
My work is unique because I have thirty years of clinical experience in psychopharmacology, and also have been trained as a neurofeedback practitioner. So in addition to prescribing medication, I can provide neurofeedback, and can determine when one, both, or neither types of treatment may be of help to you.
Not too long ago, I asked the same question. Despite my decades of work in mental health, I'd never heard if it. Here's how I came to believe that neurofeedback is a genuine therapy, at times superior to standard medications.
Like the vast majority of my psychiatric colleagues, I was skeptical of any treatment outside of talk therapy, medication, and on rare occasions hospitalization. That's all I was exposed to, during my five years of training. Of course standard psychiatric care had drawbacks: troubling side effects such as sedation, weight gain, and decreased libido, to name a few that are often experienced. One patient for whom I'd prescribed medications had a seizure...I'll never forget that.
Was there another option? I didn't know of one.
One day I was chatting with an acquaintance, an astute business woman who had built a corporation from her kitchen table and then sold it for millions. She shared with me her struggle with longstanding anxiety that began in adolescence.
"I've gotten more out of six months of neurofeedback," she told me, "than I did from twenty years of intensive psychotherapy and medication."
That got my attention.
She was convinced that neurofeedback is a breakthrough in the treatment of brain disorders, and wanted to make it more widely available. When I expressed interest in learning more, she offered to fund my attendance at a week long introductory course in Los Angeles.
"But I live in New York," I said. "Can't I learn about neurofeedback here?"
"No, I want you to study with the Othmer's," she insisted. "They're the best in the world."
Dr. Siegfried Othmer and his wife Sue Othmer became aware of neurofeedback in 1985, a number of years after their son Brian had been diagnosed with epilepsy, Tourrette's syndrome and a form of autism. Their son had seizures, aggressive outbursts and unpredictable moods. He faced a daily struggle to succeed at school and with friends. Family life was difficult.
For years the Othmer's worked with neurologists, psychiatrists, and other specialists, but nothing helped Brian until neurofeedback - it simply transformed his life.
Dr Othmer, a physicist, and his psychologist wife Sue, were inspired to redirect their lives and became pioneers in the development of neurofeedback. They are now at the forefront of clinical research, instrumentation, and education. The "Othmer method" is taught and practiced globally, and that's the method I learned and practice.
Neurofeedback is based on the premise that the brain heals when given information about its activity. Like the heart, the brain produces electricity. From moment to moment, the voltage and frequency change. This activity is picked up by sensors - on the chest to record an EKG, and on the scalp to record an EEG.
With neurofeedback, the EEG signal is digitally processed and reflected back to a patient in an engaging visual, auditory, and tactile experience. His brain recognizes the feedback as reflecting its internal processes, and over time becomes more regulated and balanced. This happens without conscious effort, and brings relief of symptoms such as worrying, mood dysregulation, attention deficits, emotional reactivity, and insomnia, to name just a few.
Think of it this way: What happens when you catch a glimpse of your slouched posture in a mirror? Immediately, without thinking, you straighten up.
That's what happens through neurofeedback. The brain sees itself and self-corrects. The result is increased physiological stability and emotional control.
For me to be convinced of that took time. I proceeded cautiously through a process that included training with the Othmer's, reviewing published research, volunteering at a neurofeedback clinic for homeless veterans, and experiencing the benefits of neurofeedback myself. Now I have no doubt: neurofeedback is a genuine treatment for a great many conditions. It's more effective, in many cases, and the results are more long-lasting, than medication.